Animals and Children


Although WC Fields reckoned you should never work with animals or children, I’ve been exploring the benefits of working with both lately.
One of the great advantages of working in private practice is that you can make up your own rules. If you want to promote your pet cat to the role of co-therapist, you can. Socs, the Wonder Cat, has been my little therapy helpmate for the past couple of years or so. Therapy sessions begin with a cuppa for my client and me, and a couple of cat treats for Socs. He then retires to the best chair in the room to listen attentively, and non-judgmentally, as I encourage our client to tell their story. On days when Socs is feeling particularly inquisitive, he will sometimes stroll over to the client and begin rooting in their bag.
Before Socs, my work with teenagers was generally accompanied by much inarticulate shrugging and staring at the floor…I admit, these behaviours were mainly my own. I’ve never known how to develop a decent conversation with a young person, but the mere presence of The Wonder Cat is a great icebreaker. Clients and I talk to him and about him. Like most cats, Socs has big fur, which almost everyone finds themselves stroking without even thinking about it. If you are a bit inarticulate and socially awkward, it’s a great boost to your confidence to find that a cute cat wants to be your mate.
Whether or not you have a cat co-therapist, if you’re not working with under-eighteen year olds, you are missing a trick. My impression is that referrals for young people have risen steadily over the past few years. My guess is that this rise maps onto the development of CAMHS services. Like many of the provisions of the welfare state, CAMHS has stimulated a demand, which it cannot meet. Whatever the politics, it’s good news for private sector practitioners willing to work with young people. This sector of the market is especially resilient because parents will often pay for therapy for their children when they wouldn’t pay for it for themselves.
There are some considerations specific to working with young people and you do need to think these through carefully. For example, if you haven’t already got DBS clearance, it might be a good idea to think about applying for it. You’ll also need to think about adjusting your confidentiality agreement when working with minors. There are the psycho-social developmental issues to take into account in your treatment delivery, and finally, you might just need to update your cultural references. It’s hard to believe, but there are some people around who are so young they haven’t even heard of Margaret Thatcher or The Pet Shop Boys. More frightening again, some of these people are over eighteen!
Actually, the reason why WC Fields counselled against working with animals or children was because he thought they were unpredictable scene-stealers who were likely to get all the attention from movie audiences. While this quality might not endear them to you if you were an actor, I guess it might rather enliven the average therapy session.

© Adam May. Email:
Adam will be facilitating a two-part webinar, “CBT With Children”, presented by Dr. Faramarz Hashempour for CBT Psychotherapist Briefings in late November. Further details on Eventbrite: